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Top Causes of Hoarseness

woman with throat painHoarseness is quite common and usually doesn’t last for very long, and in these cases, it’s usually not cause for concern. In some instances, however, it lingers, which could indicate an underlying condition that needs further attention.

In this blog, the board-certified ear, nose, and throat physicians at New York ENT explain its top causes.

What is hoarseness?

It's a symptom rather than a disease, and it refers to an abnormal change in the voice. This change usually occurs because of swelling or lumps in vocal folds – the parts of the voice box (larynx) that produce sound.

The folds open to let air pass through them and come together to create vibrations that allow you to make sounds. Swelling or growths in this area can cause the quality of this sound to change. Fortunately, most cases don’t last for very long and can resolve on their own.

What characterizes hoarseness?

It can cause make your voice sound different in the following ways:

  • Raspy
  • Strained
  • Breathy
  • Changes in pitch (how high or low your voice is)
  • Changes in loudness

What are the causes?

Acute laryngitis – the most common cause, which refers to swelling of the vocal cords. It frequently occurs when you have a cold or upper respiratory infection.

Overuse – using your voice too much or too loudly for long periods of time can temporarily strain your voice or cause nodules or polyps to develop on your vocal cords

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – acid backing up into your esophagus can irritate your vocal folds

Smoking – can cause a sore throat and hoarseness, which may be an indication of throat cancer. If you smoke and develop hoarseness, it’s best to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) – is similar to GERD, but can cause more damage since stomach acid backs up all the way into the throat or the back of the nasal airway

Other issues – can include allergies, thyroid problems, rheumatoid arthritis, trauma to the voice box, and laryngeal cancer

How is it treated?

Hoarseness that doesn’t go away on its own after a few days or isn’t accompanied by a cold or another obvious, the temporary cause should be evaluated by an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Your doctor will discuss your medical history with you and will examine your voice box and its surrounding tissue. The quality of your voice will be evaluated, and tests may be ordered to give the doctor more information.

Treatment may include:

  • Resting your voice or modifying how you use it
  • Stopping smoking and avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Medication - Underlying conditions such as allergies and GERD can be treated with medication.
  • Surgery - In some cases – such as the presence of nodules or polyps – surgery may be recommended.

If you’re experiencing lingering hoarseness, make an appointment with New York ENT today. We’ll accurately diagnose the cause of your symptoms and recommend the most effective, least invasive treatments available.

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